If you have an idea for a small business, the technological advances of the past few years have made it a better time than ever before to act on it. As traditional businesses continue to realize that e-commerce is a necessity to business success in the 21st century, many start-ups are getting a head start by opting for a Web-based approach from the get go.
Mizzen+Main, a men’s clothing start-up launched in July, offers a prime example of how a Web-based business can thrive with a recipe of good ideas, legwork, luck and expedient use of the collaborative e-commerce tools that now exist.
Mizzen+Main co-founder and CEO Kevin Lavelle got the idea for the business on a hot summer afternoon in Washington, D.C., as he watched a Congressional staffer run to a meeting, soaked in sweat and looking disheveled. Lavelle pondered the popularity of performance polo shirts in golf and tennis circles at the time and had his “eureka” moment: He would produce a line of professional clothing for men that would stay cool, dry and pressed when men were at their most active throughout the day.
In starting the company, which has now expanded to producing ties, blazers and other accoutrements, Lavelle and business partners wanted to do a few things to set their brand apart from the competition: In addition to providing a perfect active wear line of dress shirts, they would use American-made materials and labor to provide a superior product. They also decided early on that charity would be an important part of their start-up plan and kicked off the “Shirt For A Start” program which ensures that a portion of every sale would benefit American service members.
On its website, Mizzen+Main states as part of its purpose:
Mizzen+Main proudly manufactures our dress shirts in the USA. From the material to the stitching and finishing, every detail that goes into our shirts will continue to benefit our country’s resurgence as a textile manufacturing power.
Every Mizzen+Main shirt has a direct impact. We want to create jobs with our success, it is why we started the company. Our mission is to put jobs before profits. Mizzen+Main strives to have a positive impact by continuing to work with the suppliers, sew shops, and distributors in the U.S.
Though American-sourced production mandates a higher product price, the move benefited the company by giving many of its customers the feeling of purchasing a product that they can believe in. Mizzen+Main is also able to keep prices reasonable by selling primarily online, a key facet of the business’s success.
“Start-ups like ours can focus our energy on developing our product, service and brand because of the platforms and tools available today,” the company’s founders write in a blog post for The Wall Street Journal. “With the emergence of new web applications and plugins, the face of e-commerce is changing dramatically. A business can launch a product or service worldwide and reach millions without the massive infrastructure investment required just a few short years ago.”
Mizzen+Main’s founders contend that their business idea became a reality due in large part to the relatively low barrier of entry for launching a new clothing brand in the online environment. While becoming a new clothing designer once meant developing a new product and making a number of samples to show prospective retailers in hopes of scoring a deal that would warrant a production start, putting the clothing online instantly gives the company a home where it can be reached by customers.
Knowing that their products would be able to reach consumers online gave the company’s founders the freedom to put more work into producing a quality product rather than spending outrageous amounts of time enduring “the long, slow road of trade-show hopping to get their product in front of a handful of buyers, or giving away a hefty portion of each sale to distributors.”
Another benefit of online retail for the founders of Mizzen+Main is the ability to run the company from almost anywhere.
“Platforms such as Shopify and Stitch Labs have enabled Mizzen+Main, along with myriad other companies, to focus on brand and product first — essentially democratizing e-commerce,” they write. “That’s not revolutionary news, but with the robust, cloud-based add-ons available, we really can run an entire business with two partners in two states and nearly all systems run virtually.”
From the perspective of the successful start-up team at the budding clothier, access to technology and a thriving online support community are quickly making it unreasonable not to take a chance at making your small business dreams a reality. They even suggest looking to online venues for start-up capital if traditional modes of funding have failed you.
“If you don’t have the capital to get your product made, you can launch on a platform like Fundable to pay for your first run of inventory,” according to the Mizzen+Main team. “You can transition over to a beautiful e-commerce site with ease and set up all of your back-office apps and programs with one seamless interface.”
And while getting into e-commerce may sound overwhelming to you if you don’t have a background in tech or have been slow to embrace the “everything’s online” zeitgeist, a quick glance at the e-commerce enabling websites mentioned above reveals that the resources have been designed with entrepreneurs — not Web geniuses — in mind.
So what are you waiting for? Take a look around and decide for yourself if e-commerce could be just the route to realizing your own business dreams.